Useful free software to fire up your PC

If you own a PC, chances are high that you've already reached deeply into your pockets and parted with sizeable sums of cash for applications that can be downloaded for free.

Think of any application you're ever likely to need and chances are that there's a free version available online. After hours spent slaving over a hot keyboard, I've tracked down a treasure trove of online freebies for your computing pleasure.



DIGITAL PHOTOS



Picassa



Available free from picasa.google.com, there's not much Picassa can't do. Able to manage huge photo libraries, tagging and finding photos you forgot you ever had is almost effortless. Getting rid of red-eye and do other photo corrections: Total cost nada. Creating online albums and making slideshows, sticker price, Free. Doing digital photography with Picassa: Priceless - even if its free.



The Gimp



If your image editing needs are a little more extreme, get the Gimp it's way cheaper. Whilst you could plunk down several hundred bucks for a commercial photo editing app, try dropping into gimp.org and downloading the industrial strength open source photo editing app.

VLC



There are a million different digital video formats and until the advent of VLC, playing these needed multiple video player applications and a cluster of different video codecs. Not with VLC media player, which plays a multitude of audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs and a multitude of other streaming formats.



PRODUCTIVITY



Open Office



Shrink wrapped office software needn't cost a bomb. Open Office does the full office monty including word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and databases. These are no lightweight apps either, with the word processor able spell check, do complicated layouts and read Microsoft Word files, there's a lot to like about Open Office, especially its ultra low (free) price. Get your very own copy of Open Office here.



Thunderbird & Lightning



As sweet as scoring a free full function Office software suite may be, being truly productive requires access to an industrial grade email app. Thank goodness for Thunderbird. Rock solid and Fully customisable, Thunderbird allows you to organise mail, RSS feeds and newsgroup folders whilst allowing messages to be tagged so you can stay on top of a bulging email in-box. Mozilla's best feature however is its zero dollar price tag.

If Thunderbird has one downside, it's the lack of an integrated calendar for scheduling appointments and meetings. Lightning takes Mozilla one step further by adding calendaring directly into Thunderbird, allowing you to easily perform email-related calendaring tasks.



Cute PDF



Acrobat files may have become the de facto standard for electronic documents, unfortunately until now, creating .PDF formatted files was a pricey undertaking. Thanks to a freebie called CutePDF Writer, nearly any Windows application capable of printing is now able to create PDF documents.



MULTIMEDIA



SongBird



If you're looking for a powerful music library management app and are tired of your current music running like a bloated dog, try Songbird for size. Its a free download and is an open-source music player on steroids. With support for a growing number of MP3 players, Songbird also has robust music playlist management features and a growing library of plug-ins for customisability.

MediaPortal



Unless you're lucky enough own a Media Centre-equipped version of Windows Vista, converting your PC into a full-blown, music and movie playing media hub used to be a tricky undertaking. Not any more however thanks to MediaPortal, a free download that'll make your PC/TV a fully fledged media centre capable of letting you to listen to music, watch videos, DVDs and record live TV.



LastFM



More than just a free app, lastFM is a great way to listen to and discover new music online. Once you've registered, download the free lastFM application, which will keep your Last.fm profile updated with what you've been listening to on your PC or MP3 player. As Last.fm learns more about the music you like, the more it'll dish up thats close to your musical preferences.







MediaPortal



Unless you're lucky enough own a Media Centre-equipped version of Windows Vista, converting your PC into a full-blown, music and movie playing media hub used to be a tricky undertaking. Not any more however thanks to MediaPortal, a free download that'll make your PC/TV a fully fledged media centre capable of letting you to listen to music, watch videos, DVDs and record live TV.



LastFM



More than just a free app, lastFM is a great way to listen to and discover new music online. Once you've registered, download the free lastFM application, which will keep your Last.fm profile updated with what you've been listening to on your PC or MP3 player. As Last.fm learns more about the music you like, the more it'll dish up thats close to your musical preferences.



SYSTEM UTILITIES



Ccleaner



If your system has slowed to a crawl, don't despair, download Ccleaner, a fantastic PC decrapifier and give your machine a quick spring clean. Able to identify and clean stray files, cookies and other accumulated digital detritus, Ccleaner can make a huge difference and best of all, its a freebie.



Disk Keeper Lite



If your PC is still running like a sloth on valium, chances it could be suffering from a fragmented hard drive. As information is moved on and off your PCs hard drive files become "fragmented", slowing down the process of accessing data. Disk Keeper Lite re-organises files and free space back into contiguous blocks, greatly speeding things up.



Undelete Plus



Ever nuke a file only to later regret it? Undelete Plus is a free utility that'll undelete files even if they've been emptied from the recycle bin. Undelete Plus borders on being idiot-proof to drive and will scan any selected drive to present you with a list of recoverable files.





If your system has slowed to a crawl, don't despair, download Ccleaner, a fantastic PC decrapifier and give your machine a quick spring clean. Able to identify and clean stray files, cookies and other accumulated digital detritus, Ccleaner can make a huge difference and best of all, its a freebie.



Disk Keeper Lite



If your PC is still running like a sloth on valium, chances it could be suffering from a fragmented hard drive. As information is moved on and off your PCs hard drive files become "fragmented", slowing down the process of accessing data. Disk Keeper Lite re-organises files and free space back into contiguous blocks, greatly speeding things up.



Undelete Plus



Ever nuke a file only to later regret it? Undelete Plus is a free utility that'll undelete files even if they've been emptied from the recycle bin. Undelete Plus borders on being idiot-proof to drive and will scan any selected drive to present you with a list of recoverable files.



This article originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald - http://www.nzherald.co.nz









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